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9 Rules for Regifting Unwanted Gifts & Presents – Etiquette

You’ve probably been in this situation before: It’s Christmas morning, and your mom eagerly hands over a gift she’s excited for you to open. The anticipation is high, but when you unwrap it, you realize you don’t love it. How do you react? Most people will put on a happy face and thank the gift-giver politely — which is the right thing to do. But what do you do with that unwanted gift in the days and months afterward?

According to an article published in a 2016 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, the average gift-giver doesn’t think past the initial gift-giving event. In the above example, your mom probably imagined your reaction when she picked out what she considered the perfect sweater but didn’t really consider whether and when you’d wear it. With that in mind, the idea of regifting becomes more palatable. If you know the giver was focused on the initial moment you received the gift, the future of the unwanted present becomes a little bit brighter.

Simple Rules for Regifting Unwanted Presents

I remember sitting with my new husband as we opened gifts that guests had thoughtfully given as wedding presents. Among the usual packages of cookware, home decor, and the occasional check was a present that was extremely heavy. Upon opening it, I found an intricately designed all-glass picture frame carved with fruits and flowers. It was beautiful, but it definitely hadn’t been on our wedding registry and didn’t match anything else in our home. A few months later, I regifted the frame to my husband’s grandmother, and almost 20 years later, it is still proudly displayed in her curio cabinet — she loves it and is none the wiser.

While many people dislike the idea, regifting unwanted presents can actually work when you do it tactfully, carefully, and with the right amount of thought. Instead of passing an unwanted gift to the next victim, it’s possible to recognize you can’t use something and match it with the ideal recipient. In that case, regifting keeps your home clutter-free while saving you money on gifts and acknowledging the gift’s value. If you have a gift you can’t use, giving it a new home often makes the most sense — as long as you follow a few simple rules.

1. Never Regift Anything Meaningful or Handmade

There aren’t gift receipts for handmade gifts. It might not be your usual style, but if you know someone took extra time to locate or make a gift for you, it’s typically bad form to give it away. Handmade gifts often include an emotional component since the giver took extra time and care to create something for you rather than just ordering a gift on their Amazon Prime account for the free shipping. For example, if your best friend worked hard to make a wall hanging for your home, they’d probably be upset if they knew you gave it to someone else. It’s best to keep handmade items and acknowledge the time and effort that went into making the gift.

The same goes for meaningful gifts: If the giver makes comments about taking the time to choose the perfect gift or seems really excited to give you something, acknowledge that effort and keep it. You might not really need that first-edition book, but you can appreciate the time and thought that went into finding and purchasing it. Put it on your shelf and use it as a reminder of how much the giver cares about you.

2. Regift Outside That Social Circle

If you decide to regift something, remember that no one wants to know about the swap — that includes the initial giver and the second receiver. Say your co-worker Angela gives you a tchotchke for your desk that you don’t want. You hand it off to your colleague Mike. Imagine how Angela would feel if she sees it sitting on Mike’s desk. In addition to being awkward, it can be downright hurtful.

If you want to regift, make sure there’s no way the original giver could discover the regifting. That way, there aren’t any hurt feelings because the original gift-giver doesn’t know their present has found a new home elsewhere. It’s also ideal to leave some time between receiving it and passing it onto another person. Tuck that unwanted gift away until you thoughtfully find a new recipient.

3. Only Regift Brand-New Items

Expert regifters know only to regift brand-new products in the original packaging. If you’ve opened the package or used the gift, it’s best to keep, sell, or donate it. Regifting used items, whatever the condition, is bad etiquette.

While you can still give these items away, don’t frame it as a gift. Instead, be honest with the person you’re giving it to, and just offer to let them have it. Letting the recipient know you’ve used the item and offering them the option to pass allows you to give it away without looking thoughtless.

4. Regift Thoughtfully

The vast majority of gifts are given with good intentions, even if they aren’t always well thought-out. Don’t simply regift to get rid of something or because you can’t think of a new gift idea for the person who has everything. Regift when you know it’s the ideal present for someone you love.

For example, say you get a new slow cooker. It’s true you love slow cooker recipes, but you just got a new one you spent months picking out. If you know someone else who’s always wanted one or whose slow cooker is cracked, regifting makes sense because it’s something they want and need. But the same slow cooker, even if it’s brand-new and in the original packaging, doesn’t make sense for someone who hates cooking of any kind.

5. Avoid Signs of a Regift

Even if something is still new and in its original box, you could inadvertently leave telltale signs you’ve regifted. And since feelings about receiving a regifted present can be complicated even if they really like the gift, it’s crucial to remove all signs you were the original recipient.

Check for the following:

  • Leftover wrapping paper from Christmas gifts
  • Leftover tape
  • Signs the box was previously opened
  • An original card or gift tag from the giver
  • A name written on the packaging
  • Personalization, such as a book with an inscription
  • Promotional material, such as a logo on something you received for free

6. Don’t Wait for a Special Occasion

Regifting often seems like it’s more acceptable when it’s simply a spontaneous surprise. Regifting a vacuum as a wedding present can seem tacky because a marriage is a significant milestone in someone’s life and you should celebrate it accordingly with a thoughtful, helpful, and generous gift. But even if the recipient finds out, regifting goes over a little better when it’s simply spur of the moment.

7. When in Doubt, Regift to Charity

Stuck with something you don’t love? Instead of trying to give it to a friend or family member, you can always regift to charity. Organizations like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, and Toys for Tots all accept new items. And don’t forget to collect your donation receipt so you can receive a tax deduction for your charitable giving.

8. Never Regift Food

Regifting a bottle of wine is no big deal, but if someone gave you homemade or custom baked goods or treats, don’t regift them. Without the preservatives of prepackaged store-bought food, the treats could spoil or decline in quality before they reach the final recipient.

If you receive a food gift you know you won’t consume, share it ASAP rather than framing it as a gift for someone else. Bringing cupcakes to work can make you the office hero, and they won’t sit on your kitchen counter for days before going into the garbage.

If you received prepackaged goods you can’t consume before they expire, like a tin of store-bought holiday cookies, donate them to your local food bank. Because food-based gifts are meant to be consumed, the original giver never has to know you didn’t eat them.

9. Always Show Appreciation

The most significant element of being a savvy and compassionate regifter is by always showing appreciation for the gift. Even if it’s not your style or preference, it’s essential to acknowledge the age-old adage that it’s the thought that counts.

Before you pass a gift onto a new recipient, send a thank-you note or verbally thank the person who gave it to you. Remember that the average gift-giver thinks mostly about the initial reaction and not how the recipient will use or enjoy the gift long term.

Choosing holiday gifts, birthday presents, and wedding gifts can be stressful for the original giver, and as the recipient, it’s your job to show a positive and grateful reaction. Once you’ve shown your appreciation, it’s OK to tastefully regift with a clear conscience.

Final Word

Regifting can be a win-win situation since you have something you can’t use and know someone who can. But in your bid to save money during the holidays and get rid of unwanted clutter, don’t forget to consider the feelings of both the giver and the recipient. Even if regifting isn’t a big deal to you, the original giver took the time and effort to carefully select it for you, and your eventual regifting recipient probably expects you to do the same.

A note before you regift: If either the original giver or your recipient finds out you’ve regifted, your best bet is simply to come clean. Don’t dig yourself into a hole by telling a lie. Instead, explain that you weren’t able to use the present, but you thought of someone who could and gave accordingly. By taking care to regift in the most polite and ethical way possible, you’ll avoid finding yourself in hot water.

Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.

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